Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 2 years 1 month ago

In this phase, I will collect information from local contacts, interpret facts, and find their relevance to the ten big questions I came up with in Phase 1. In Phase 2, I found local contacts and sources for information.

Background Information (from Phase 1, Step 4):

Below is some research I collected from a variety of sources listed by order underneath that build up to the ten big questions I will answer while in Xizhou, which can be found in Phase 1.

The Cultural Revolution was a time when the government had gone out of its way to destroy the 'old' to bring in newer, more 'correct' values. Much of this destruction involved religious sites (as religion stood in the way of Communist values). [12]

The Cultural Revolution occurred from about 1965, when Mao launched a crackdown on dissident scholars, to 1976, when Mao Zedong died. [16]

Many cultural sites were either demolished, defaced, or otherwise spoiled as violence and chaos ensued, although not necessarily as a direct result of Mao's policies. [13]

Xizhou is known as the cradle of Bai culture. The Bai have lived in Xizhou for more than 1300 years and have made great advances in the sciences, the arts, literature, architecture, etc. They are also famous for their stone complexes, which have three wings and one large wall, which are arranged as a courtyard opposite to a large, decorated wall, usually white (after all, they are known as the bai). [14]

Two kilometers south of old town are the Three Pagodas, which date back to the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms, when the area was not governed by Han Chinese. More than a thousand years ago, these pagodas were part of the largest monastery in the area, known as Chongshengsi (崇圣寺). Only the three pagodas survive today. [14]

In a landmark bill adopted by the Ninth National People's Congress in 2002, the government of the People's Republic of China officially put into its protection "sites of ancient culture, ancient tombs, ancient architectural structures, cave temples, stone carvings and murals that are of historical, artistic or scientific value" and so on. It also puts forward provisions for private ownership of "memorial buildings, ancient architectural structures, cultural relics handed down from ancestors and other cultural relics obtained in accordance with laws". Article 7 states the obligation of "all government department [sic], public organizations and individuals" within law. It essentially binds the government to protect cultural sites. [16]

Information From 3-to-5's:

Most of the destruction occurred with the homes of landowners and merchants. Some of these buildings include the Yan family home (which is now the cultural site by Sifangjie), the Dong family home (by the laundry place), the Linden Centre, Yangzhuoran, and the wooden building at the most dangerous intersection. Of these, the Yan family home is the most damaged, with most of it covered in weeds. The Linden Centre is best preserved with little damage, as it served as a base for the army during the Cultural Revolution. [3]

The main perpetrator of this damage is the Red Guard. Many believe that it was simply a division of the army; it is, in fact, a wholly separate institution put in place by the State Council. Apparently divisions were sent from, for instance, Beijing to Xizhou to "brainwash" locals and to provoke them to destroy the homes of the rich while claiming that all of their wealth came from the pockets of the hard-working proletarians. Of course, greed was not absent from their minds and many of the Red Guard and their followers took for themselves. [3]

Yangzhuoran once belonged to one of the wealthiest merchants in Xizhou, built during the 30s. The owner, of course, was Yang Zhuoran (杨卓然). As the Cultural Revolution occurred during the mid-to-late 60s, he was also subject to many injustices from the locals (rooted on by the Red Guard). Many intricate carvings and paintings have been literally pulled off the walls, as the rough patches on the walls downstairs show. Annaliese believes that he was also forced to dig cow dung in his late years. [1] Yangzhuoran itself is not traditional Bai architecture; it contains quite a few Western influences (brought by merchants from Shanghai) including the marble wall, which would be plain white with intricate paintings rather than carvings. [17]

Some examples of traditional Bai architecture include the sanfangyizhaobi (三房一照壁) layout (three wings, one picture wall), as well as the sihewutianjing (四合五天井), which has four walls and one "sky well", a well surrounded by a type of patio. [17]

A lot of details in Bai architecture can tell something about the owners themselves. The dragons on the flying eaves of buildings are not placed there simply as decoration; if there is a phoenix on top of a dragon, the owner is female. Although Xizhou is a mainly patriarchal society, neighboring matriarchal cultures have influenced locals. [17]

Information From Local Contacts:

  • Many of these buildings were destroyed, and decorations were defaced because they symbolized personal wealth and privilege, which was contrary to Communist teachings at that time. [1] The decorations, like the intricate wood carvings and paintings on marble in YZR and in other places, were common targets of the Red Guard, although the heights of homes in the Xizhou region are about the same to emphasize equality between families. [2]

Interpretation: This may reveal some of the political ideologies and thoughts at the time. I guess that people were truly convinced that destruction could lead to income redistribution. But this also raises the question of how these people were convinced or brainwashed into doing these things.

  • Mainly the homes of "capitalists" (资本家), or merchants and the upper class were damaged. [5] Yangzhuoran was one of the "eight middle capitalist families" in Xizhou. [6] The "Big Four" are the Yan, Yang, Yi, and Dong. [3]

Interpretation: This contrasts vastly from my initial knowledge, which was that mainly religious sites have been destroyed. I guess this also reflects upon the ideologies that the Cultural Revolution was based on; the Communists focused on the wealthy rather than the religious. This also raises the question of if any religious sites survived that time.

  • The Zhonghe Temple (中和寺) was originally constructed during the Nanshao period of the Tang Dynasty (AD 738-902), but was reconstructed during the Jiajing Emperor's reign of the Ming Dynasty (AD 1522-1566). It completely flattened during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and soon after, weeds took over the original site. It was reconstructed with the support of the local government in 1975. [7]

Interpretation: This aligns itself with much of my previous knowledge. I think this reflects greatly on the motivations of people destroyed the temple, as they must have been motivated enough to climb up the mountain for hours just to destroy a (comparatively) tiny temple. This raises the question of who had destroyed the temple in the first place.

  • The Red Guard was responsible for provoking young people to damage the buildings, but ultimately it was the people themselves who defaced the buildings. [3] At that time, the government pitted family against family, even child against mother, so it is not too hard to believe that this may have happened. [4] Most or all the damage was caused by the owners themselves. It was somewhat compulsory, almost as a way to prevent the Red Guard from ransacking the building. [5]

Interpretation: I find this to be a bit strange; the Red Guard seems to be behind all of this destruction, but the vast majority of this damage was caused by the people themselves. This contradicts my previous knowledge of this topic, as I previously thought that the damage was caused directly by the government and the Communist Party. This also raises the question of what sorts of motivations the people had to destroy the buildings, maybe financial or social.

  • Mr. Duan remembers that the damage was mainly done while villagers were hot-headed; gypsum was literally splashed onto offending artwork (the intricate small paintings on walls). He even scratched out a family motto on a chair in his home. This makes it extremely difficult to repair the damage without destroying the painting underneath. [5]

From left to right: defaced chair, destroyed paintings, and a defaced family motto

Interpretation: I previously thought that the damage was more deliberate, but it seems that it was done in quite a hurry. This also raises the question of in what sort of a timeframe was the damage done, in days, in weeks, maybe in months?

  • Back then, villagers thought it was natural. After all, Chairman Mao ordered the damage. Nowadays, villagers feel that it was rather impulsive and many regret their actions. [5]

Interpretation: Perhaps it was the government's fault. But it is more likely that this reflects the mindset of the Chinese back then: out with the old, in with the new. Many did not realize that there simply was nothing to replace the old, and much was lost. This raises the question of why they regret their actions.

  • The government played a huge role in the destruction, but it was not necessarily the perpetrator of the damage. It started a people's movement, which was based on the philosophy that without Chairman Mao, China could not be "liberated". This personality cult was manipulated by Mao's subordinates as he became senile, especially by his wife Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, and the rest of the Gang of Four. Its role in this movement is quite complicated, as boundaries became blurred during this chaotic period. [5]

Interpretation: I initially thought that the government played a more definite role in the damage; however, Mr. Duan points out that the government became divided itself, and consequently, it is hard to even define what "the government" is. It also raises the question of which people within the government were responsible for provocation and how Chairman Mao may have played a role in this.

  • Ms. Liu, the caretaker at Daci Temple, explained that the remaining two large buildings were originally constructed during the Ming Dynasty and are more than 300 years old. On the left side, there used to be buildings flanking the main pagoda, but they were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. [8] The temple was used as a campus for the Wuzhong University during World War II, when many universities in China moved further inland to provinces like Yunnan and Sichuan. [8, 10, 11]

Interpretation: According to these sources, many religious sites were used for other purposes during the Japanese Occupation and the Cultural Revolution. This corroborates with my previous knowledge, but also raises the question of why they were not completely destroyed. I think that it may have to do with the fact that China at that time did not have the industrial capabilities or labor force necessary to rebuild over destroyed sites and required the buildings for more practical uses anyway.

  • Ms. Yang, the owner of a guesthouse, explained her knowledge of politically motivated architectural destruction. As she did not experience the Cultural Revolution, she referred me to her parents, but noted that many of the flowery designs found in YZR and other older buildings were deemed as "symbols of capitalism" during the Cultural Revolution and decorations were then destroyed. Many walls have spray-painted and carved Chinese characters, many with political mottos and slogans from that time, and there is even one outside YZR with a motto praising Chairman Mao and wishing him to become immortal (毛主席万岁). [9]

Interpretation: The CCP seems to at that time have found many symbols of so-called "capitalism" and other concepts and things tied closely with previous regimes, and like my previous knowledge, it seems that the rich, who could afford these decorations, were commonly targets of these attacks, many of whom were "liberated" from their homes. This also raises the question of what other symbols were deemed counter-revolutionary during those times.

  • A massive earthquake in 1925 caused damage in the Dali region, toppling the spire of the largest of the Three Pagodas [18], but causing relatively little structural damage to buildings.[4] YZR was built after the earthquake, which shows in how the previous owner had invested quite a lot in seismic-proofing the compound. [4]

Interpretation: Most natural damage in Xizhou seems to have came from fire, but Xizhou sits on a place with relatively frequent seismic activity. This is similar to my previous knowledge, but little evidence and few people from the earthquake survive today. It also raises the question of which, of fire and earthquakes, causes the greatest amount of damage to buildings nowadays, also compared to the years following the earthquake.

Preservation & Restoration

  • The government strictly enforces the Cultural Relics Law. Buildings that are designated as cultural relics may not be demolished, and even repairs and renovations require a permit from the bureau. The building right next door to YZR, according to Mr. T, was razed during the Dynamite trip, but I am not too sure that many buildings obtain designation from the government. [1]
  • Mr. Duan says that it is extremely difficult for the government to enforce relevant regulations protecting cultural relics. Even fixing a window or adding an attic requires permits from the local government, and most people are either too lazy to do so or they are afraid that they may not receive permission. [5]

Interpretation: This seems to be a very two-sided situation: the government is fiercely denying that there is lax supervision, and the people observing buildings being razed to the ground. It also raises the question of what sorts of buildings earn such designation from the government.

  • Individuals and businesses tend to be more short-sighted and focus only on financial gain rather than cultural preservation. Many people want modern facilities and larger homes; destruction is only a natural part of this process. [5]

Interpretation: I think that the problems are not limited to only greed; ignorance must also be a part of this process. Even if you are short-sighted, but with the knowledge that these buildings are invaluable, most would not destroy these buildings. I think that this also supports my previous knowledge, but it also raises the question of how the government could make it easier to enforce these regulations.

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1): 


1. Why have certain buildings been destroyed/defaced/demolished?

Guess: Religion was contrary to many of the socialist/communist/Marxist/Leninist values that Mao's regime adopted during the time, so many temples (especially Confucius) were destroyed/defaced/demolished. They also were campaigning for income redistribution, so maybe landowners' homes were defaced too.

Buildings, especially those with designs or decorations deemed to have symbolized capitalism or personal wealth were destroyed. [9] Villagers themselves were responsible for much of the damage, although many feared reprisal from the Red Guard if they did not do so.  [5]

2. Which buildings have been destroyed/defaced/demolished?

Guess: Religious, traditional (maybe a long stretch), landowners' homes.

Mainly the homes of (former) landowners and the upper class (merchants) were destroyed, [3, 5, 6] but also buildings at religious sites as well. [7, 8]

3. Who may have orchestrated/done the damage?

Guess: Young people with ties to the Communist Party may have actually done the damage, perhaps as government officials looked on and maybe even with their endorsement. Maybe they were even rewarded for their actions. According to the Linden Centre, the Red Guard was also involved with the destruction of architecture, but was unable to destroy the interior of Yangjiayuan as security reasons prevented their entrance.

Villagers themselves did most of the damage, but mostly under the watch, and in the fear of reprisal from, the Red Guard. [5]

4. What do villagers remember about the damage done to the buildings?

Guess: Villagers may remember the chaos that ensued during the later stages of the Cultural Revolution, when much of this damage was done. They may also recall which weapons were used, and if it was openly done (with a large ceremony and the village looking on) or done secretly. They may even know which people were responsible for the damage and the reasons behind the damage.

Many villagers remember that much of the damage was done in a hurried and, perhaps, rushed manner, as gypsum was poured straight onto paintings and beautiful wood carvings were, quite literally, cut out of the frame, leaving a mess of uneven surface behind it. [4, 5]

5. What attitudes do villagers have about the damage?

Guess: Many of the villagers may not even remember much about it, and I guess that the older villagers may have been opposed to the destruction, but were too afraid to be vocal with their opinions.

Many villagers nowadays regret the damage and many more have attempted to cover it up, but it was natural to think that way back then, especially as Chairman Mao was made a sort of a god-like figure and the Red Guard was like his messengers. [5]

6. Was the government possibly involved in any of this damage/destruction/defacing?

Guess: The government was definitely responsible for at least some of the damage. However, it may not be responsible for all of it, as China was particularly chaotic during the time.

The role of the government in most of this damage is quite complex. As the government itself was very divided during this period, it is hard to exactly define the position of the government in this period, but Red Guard, a youth movement officially endorsed and sanctioned by the government during the Cultural Revolution, was responsible for at least providing the motivation and the provocation necessary to push villagers to damage buildings. [4, 5]

7. What sorts of political and/or socio-economic factors played a role in the destruction of buildings?

Guess: The personality cult centered around Chairman Mao could explain a lot of it, and so could the vast inequality and corruption during past regimes have sewn seeds for massive public anger.

As the Cultural Revolution was a period in which a huge personality cult was built around Chairman Mao, everything he said, wrote, implied, and ordered was thought of as being law, as being absolutely and morally correct. [4, 5] The previous regime, the Republic of China (while ruling over the Mainland), was corrupt, society was particularly unequal, and the scars of starvation, famine, and war under the Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as the Japanese Occupation meant that there was a massive build-up of public dissent and anger against the upper class. [4, 12, 17]


8. What are some reasons why people have destroyed buildings in the name of 'progress'?

Guess: People want modern facilities and larger homes, and businesses (hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, etc.) also like modern conveniences and larger spaces. Old architecture simply gets in the way of these wants.

Individuals and businesses are too focused on short-term benefits nowadays. [5] These include modern facilities, conveniences, added capacity and space, and low maintenance costs. Old buildings are notoriously difficult to maintain, and many do not have the capacity to handle electricity, communication facilities, running water, and sewage systems. [19]


9. What are some natural causes of the destruction of buildings?

Guess: Fire, earthquakes, and weather are probably very important factors.

Fire destroys many buildings every year in Xizhou, because of the dry climate. [4] An earthquake in 1925 destroyed much of the Greater Dali region's buildings and toppled the top spire of one of the Three Pagodas. [18] YZR was built after the earthquake, so many seismic-proofing techniques were applied during the construction. [4]



10. Which of these (political, progress, natural) factors have had the greatest impact on buildings in Xizhou?

Guess: This differs from time to time; political destruction may have dominated during the early days of the People's Republic (until Mao's death), progress may have dominated during the Opening Up period from about the 70s through today, and natural factors have remained constant throughout the times.

Political factors have caused the greatest damage during the Cultural Revolution [5], and progress factors have had the greatest impact on destruction from the early 90s up until today [1]. Natural factors, such as fire and earthquake damage, has remained constant.



[1] Mr. Yin, the owner of the guesthouse on Ranyi Xiang and former head of village committee, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Wed 27 Nov

[2] Mr. and Ms. Zhao, two completely unrelated teachers at Xizhou Di'er Zhongxue (Xizhou Second Middle School), personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Mon 2 Dec

[3] Annaliese, a staff member at YZR, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Tue 26 Nov

[4] Mr. Tafel, a chaperone from SAS, presentation conducted on Sat 30 Nov

[5] Mr. Duan, a former government official who lives in Chengdong Village, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Tue 3 Dec

[6] A cultural relic status sign outside Yangzhuoran

[7] A stone sign detailing the Zhonghe Temple's reconstruction outside the temple (viewable here)

[8] Ms. Liu, the lone caretaker of Daci Temple (大慈寺) past the market in Xizhou, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Thu 5 Dec

[9] Ms. Yang, the owner of a guesthouse past the Linden Centre, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Thu 5 Dec

[10] Wu Tang, Dali News, "The Past and Present of the Dali Daci Temple", 7 Jan 2010 (in Chinese)

[11] Wang Ruijie, "The Daci Temple Not Deserving of Neglect", 16 May 2013 (in Chinese)

[12] Previous personal knowledge

[13] My parents, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Thu 31 Oct

[14] The Linden Centre, "Bai People and Culture"

[15] Michael Galduroz, Alex Busetto, and Yuki Satou, "Discovering China: The Cultural Revolution"

[16] The Government of the People's Republic of China, Chinese Government's Official Web Portal, "Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection of Cultural Relics (Order of the President No.76)", 28 Oct 2002

[17] Fay, a staff member at YZR, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Tue 26 Nov

[18] Ms. Li, an embroidery teacher at Happy Embroidery, personal interview conducted by Benjamin H. on Mon 9 Dec

[19] The Linden Centre, "History & Restoration"

Note: The phrase "this period" is commonly mentioned in this phase. Please note that this refers to the Cultural Revolution, usually defined as the period between 1966 and 1976, when Chairman Mao died.

In this phase, I have collected information from 3-to-5s and local contacts. I know that I am ready to move on to Phase 4 because I am filled with information and have completed this phase. I know I am filled with information because all of my ten questions (and many more) have been answered by local contacts, and I have enough information for my final product. My main point I would like to share with my audience in my final product is architectural destruction in general in Xizhou, and the political, progress, and natural factors associated with it. In Phase 4, I will be preparing for and drawing up an outline for my final product.


Dates and time.

Hi Benjamin,

I'm not sure if you have noticed this or not but many of the old houses that are still standing have newspaper that are pasted on the walls. While I was doing my research I noticed this and asked one of my contacts. According to them the newspaper is used to help hold the wood structure together. While I had only scanned over the newspapers (I didn't pay very carefuly attention), I noticed that the dates as well as the chinese characters on the newspapers are not even and range from quite recent to extremely old. So looking at the newspaper on the walls of the houses might help to give you a sense of when and where these newspapers were obtained and pasted, but it also might show when the damage was done, because while I had been looking through one of the old houses, some of the newspaper had fallen away and I could see marks where the wood was obviously chipped through tools in an attempt to damage the walls.


Hope this helps!

I am fourteen years old and I was born in Mountain View, California but have since then moved to Shanghai in fourth grade. Xizhou was an awesome place to discover more about myself and the "real" China. I still miss the clean air, delicious food, and friendly people of Xizhou. All active and future Microcampus students can feel free to ask me for advice!